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The road ahead is exciting as the automotive world races towards a new era of electric and self-driving vehicles. Leading car manufacturers worldwide are competing to keep pace with this transformation, evident in their current lineup and upcoming releases. Escalating fuel costs have played a pivotal role in encouraging individuals to bid farewell to traditional gasoline cars and embrace the new wave of electric vehicles (EVs). But what exactly lies ahead for us?
The answer to this question can be found in the convergence of Level 5 automation and ride-sharing. The daily usage of a vehicle by the average car owner is very low, it's mainly parked at the office for 8-9 hours or sitting at home. Instead, the vehicle can join a shared fleet of rideshare platforms that can generate revenue for its owner. As vehicles become increasingly intelligent, a revolutionary shift is in store. This new reality spotlights the importance of creating interiors that are both functional and cozy.
As we travel deeper into the era of digital revolution, we stand at the cusp of a transformative change in our transportation systems- Level 5 automation. This monumental shift not only signifies the magnitude of autonomy where vehicles operate with zero human interference but also hints at the profound implications it could have on revenue generation and interior design of vehicles.
Level 5 Automation
Level 5 automation represents the ultimate degree of automotive technology automation where a vehicle has the capability to drive itself in any circumstance, with no need for human interaction. This means the car can handle every aspect of driving, including navigating, responding to events, making decisions, and implementing actions on urban city streets, rural locations, highways, and under all weather conditions.
The Scale of Vehicle Automation
There are six levels of driving automation as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), starting from Level 0, which represents no automation whatsoever, to Level 5, the pinnacle of automation technology. Most vehicles currently available on the market fall between Levels 2 and 3, where advanced driver assistance systems are prevalent, but full autonomy is not yet possible.
Traversing the remaining levels to reach Level 5 automation requires significant technological advancements and breakthroughs. While there are several semi-autonomous cars on the market today, getting to Level 5 will require consistent progress in artificial intelligence, advanced sensors, machine learning, Lidar technology, and complex navigation systems.
The current level of automation achieved is Level 4 automation which is defined as high automation where the car can drive itself in most conditions but driver intervention is still required. But to truly reach level 5 automation there needs to be more research into perception during bad weather, and better decision-making machine learning models which will improve based on more mileage accumulation from deployed vehicles on the road. Another area of concern is cyber security since these vehicles are run mainly based on neural networks and cloud-based computing. which is prone to cyber-attacks. With the fast-paced progression in camera, LIDAR, and Radar technologies, the prediction is that a complete autonomous vehicle will be achieved in this decade.
Leaders in the race
The race to be first has accelerated the amount of innovation in the field of autonomous driving. Using completely camera-based technology from Tesla, Microsoft is partnering with VW group to develop a cloud-based system for future autonomous vehicle Autopilot ( Advanced Driver Assistance System -ADAS), Google's moonshot start-up Waymo has deployed a Lidar-based vehicle for driverless ride-sharing in major cities in the USA, China's Technology company Baidu uses NVIDIA chips to develop driverless taxis, General Motors subsidiary Cruise has also deployed ride-hailing services in major cities and is developing technologies to be implemented in passenger vehicles as well and the list goes on.
Potential for Revenue Generation
By reshaping the concept of transportation itself, Level 5 automation can create multiple new streams of revenue. For instance, taxi and car rental firms may give way to autonomous ride-hailing services. Additionally, data generated by autonomous cars could become a valuable asset, as these data can give unprecedented insights into consumer behavior and traffic patterns.
There are few companies like Cruise and Waymo that have deployed driverless ride-hailing platforms in major cities in the USA but are limited to short-distance travel within the city. The next step would be ride-sharing available to all customers who buy autonomous vehicles. Since the vehicle has very low usage on days when it is either parked at home or office, it can join a ride-sharing network which can generate income for the owner. This would mean our cities will also get smarter with sensors integrated into the road infrastructure, vehicle-to-vehicle, and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications which make the autonomous vehicle safer and the traffic flow better managed. Many companies like Uber, Lyft, and Tesla are actively working to get to this level of automation to be more profitable and also give more to the user. Driverless cars will also lead to more affordable fares and make the vehicle an asset rather than a depreciating liability.
Revolutionizing Interior Design
As our world edges towards Level 5 automation, we can expect drastic transformations in the interiors of vehicles. Rather than focusing on aspects of driving, these self-operative vehicles will prioritize comfort and productivity. Think of adjustable seats designed for interactive conversations or a quick brainstorming session. We could likely witness the integration of enhanced infotainment systems, onboard Wi-Fi, and even workstation setups for optimal productivity while commuting.
The shift from manual to fully automated vehicles eliminates the need for control spaces traditionally required in vehicles. Instead, the interiors can be reinvented into multi-utility spaces, making room for working areas, entertainment centers, or cozy lounges, opening a new world of comfort and productivity on the go. Automakers are increasingly looking at these innovative interiors not merely as a passenger-serving measure, but also as a significant revenue generation opportunity. Stylish, comfortable, and highly versatile interiors could be a key differentiator in the fiercely competitive autonomous vehicle market, driving demand and thereby increasing profitability.
Redefining Car Ownership
In a world of Level 5 automation, ownership norms may shift towards shared mobility, affecting car manufacturers and transportation companies alike. Utilizing self-driving capabilities, shared mobility services like car-sharing and ride-hailing could become more prevalent and efficient, potentially reducing the need for individual vehicle ownership. This model creates new revenue streams for transport companies while potentially reducing urban congestion and vehicle emissions.
Onboard the vehicle, Level 5 automation signifies a shift from active driving to passive riding, freeing up time and attention for passengers. This scenario opens vast opportunities for the entertainment industry to provide tailored in-vehicle entertainment experiences. Moreover, with sophisticated onboard infotainment systems, targeted in-vehicle advertising could serve as a fresh revenue source. Advertisers can leverage the technology to display personalized ads based on user preference or current trip details, leading to more precise and effective campaigns.
To conclude, the change that Level 5 automation promises is not just confined to a novel way of commuting, but extends into the realms of revenue generation and vehicle design. New business models will arise, driven by car-sharing, ride-hailing, in-vehicle entertainment, and a boom in data analysis and cybersecurity sectors. At the same time, the very concept of vehicle interiors will undergo a paradigm shift, transforming from a simple design necessity to a versatile space for work and leisure. This vision of the future that we've painted is not a far-off possibility, but a foreseeable reality-the dawn of a new age in transportation.
(Karun Balachandran is an Interior product design engineering expert working in the Electric Vehicle industry based in the USA. He has experience designing and launching sustainable energy vehicles that are capable of getting to Level 5 automation.)